i love you, diet coke

Abby Ellin is powerless over Diet Coke. So is Dan Kois, but he’s in a much better place about it all. “What this topic truly needs”, I thought, “is my own two cents as a lifelong Diet Coke drinker slash addict”. My platform isn’t as wide as the NYT or Slate, but oh MAN do I love words, so I’m jumping into the fray.

Diet Coke. I’ve been drinking it near non-stop since I was 13 years old. We had a soda vending machine in our school, and I hit that thing up several times a day until I could source my own supply, and I’ve never looked back.

People have been trying to get me to stop or at least cut back on my Diet Coke consumption for as long as I can remember. An ex boyfriend once brought me a Super Big Gulp of Diet Coke from 7-11, but he mixed the Diet Coke with regular Coke in an attempt to trick me into thinking regular Coke wasn’t so bad. It didn’t work. We broke up (5 years later, but I’m certain this contributed to the end of the relationship).

When I was younger, Diet Coke was tied to my identity. I was the girl who lived on Diet Coke and Tic Tacs. The occasional lemon slice in my drink saved me from scurvy, but there was not a lot else that passed my lips. I also felt like garbage most of the time, but the Diet Coke had nothing to do with that. It was just a coincidence, is all.

Did you know Diet Coke used to come in 3 litre bottles? It was so great. Give me a straw, a bottle, and I was literally set for the night. I was a Swatch Dog and Diet Coke head through and through, and I was happy as a fucking clam. I have a personal rule of always bringing my own drinks with me wherever I go, and it started from this period of my life: anyone else could easily grab whatever was on hand to drink, but I had very specific requirements so it was just easier to supply my own. To this day, you can guarantee that if I leave the house, I will have a travel tumbler full of ice and Diet Coke and probably an extra bottle stashed somewhere for thirst emergencies.

There are currently 53 710ml bottles of Diet Coke in my house. This is approximately 4 weeks’ worth of Diet Coke; fewer if Ed gets thirsty and dips into my supply. I only allow it because he is the transporter of my Diet Coke: we buy flats of bottles at a time, but I am weak and brittle so he does the heavy lifting. For this, I allow him access to the stash. He knows not to abuse my benevolence, or there will be hell to pay. I don’t know that this house has ever NOT had Diet Coke in it since the day we moved in, and I plan to keep it that way for the unforeseeable future. I’m set in my ways, okay. I am an old dog. I do not need new tricks.

My addiction (if you insist on calling it that – I prefer to think of it as a partnership) is easy to maintain in North America, where Diet Coke is available almost everywhere. That’s not the rule, though, and while it’s rare that I find myself in a place where Pepsi is the only option, it rarely affects me because I bring my own drink. You can keep your Pepsi and your various toxins. I’ve got my own back.

Unfortunately, Diet Coke is not universal. There are large parts of the world where Diet Coke does not even EXIST, and sometimes I go to these places. I’ve had to think long and hard about some of our trips where I won’t have access to Diet Coke: do I REALLY want to go there? I almost always do, so I have to come up with a way to manage myself. Sometimes, I’ll try to power through. The longer the trip goes, the more irritable I get – I’m not getting any caffeine and it can’t be fixed through other means, so what do I do? Suffer, that’s what. Here are some of the places I haven’t been able to get any Diet Coke, and how I survived:

  • Cuba: Coke isn’t sold in Cuba at all, for obvious reasons. They have a national soda – tuKola, which does have a diet variety – and it’s terrible. We were there for a week. It was difficult.
  • Japan: I was too excited for this trip, and forgot to check the availability of Diet Coke. This was a huge mistake, as Japan does not sell any diet drinks whatsoever – no Diet Coke, no Coke Zero, no Coke Light. I had an extra 1L bottle with me that I nursed for as long as I could, but by the 3rd day in Japan, I was completely out of Diet Coke. I ended up drinking a lot of Milk Tea, and then I got diabetes. True story!
  • Spain: Spain has Coke Light. Coke Light is garbage. Suffered the first time, then started stuffing my suitcase. Last time we were in Spain, I managed to make my supply last until we got to Madrid, so just over a week – that’s pretty good, but then I spent the remaining week being sleepy and unrefreshed.
  • Morocco: There is no Diet Coke in Morocco.
  • Amsterdam: There is no Diet Coke in the Netherlands. For this trip, I stuffed my suitcase full of Diet Coke. It’s always risky – I don’t really recommend putting pressurized contents in your suitcase – but I was desperate, and all the bottles survived the trip. I was caffeinated until the last three days, which is pretty good.
  • France: There is no Diet Coke in France. It makes me grumpy and sour, and then I just blend into French society.

This is going to sound stupid (to you; to me it’s just logic), but part of the reason I love traveling to the UK and Ireland so much is because Diet Coke is readily available. I may not always get it in my favourite format, but it’s there and easy to find and always delicious, so it feels like home.

Speaking of formats, you better fucking believe that the format of the Diet Coke is important. We all have our favourites. Here’s my own list of preferred Diet Coke formats, going from marginally acceptable to outright delightful:

  • Straight out a bottle or can, like a neanderthal
  • McDonald’s fountain Diet Coke. Super cheap in the summer, easy to get, almost always acceptable if not actually decent.
  • Wendy’s fountain Diet Coke
  • Five Guys fountain Diet Coke is always amazing
  • Chipotle fountain Diet Coke – this is my go-to when in New York, because there are more Chipotles there than any other restaurant and the Diet Coke is always great
  • From a can or 500ml bottle, over a ridiculous amount of ice
  • 2L bottle, over a ridiculous amount of ice
  • 710ml bottle, over a ridiculous amount of ice

I might also be addicted to ice. Anyway, any of the above list is an acceptable method of Diet Coke delivery. Other methods are fine in an emergency, but not ideal: 7-11 fountain pop used to be my go-to when I had very little money AND taste, but it’s actually disgusting. Same with Burger King – their fountain pop is okay if there is a Situation, but I would prefer to get it from any source listed above.

.. as long as it’s fresh.

What, you didn’t know Diet Coke had a shelf life that affects the taste? Oh, honey.

When we buy my weekly supply, the bottles must have a date at least two months out. If it’s any closer, or gord forbid PAST that date, the Diet Coke tastes sour and skunky and sad. I’ve been known to empty and recycle entire flats of expired Diet Coke, because my vices are really very reasonably priced, so why should I settle for sub-par? I’m better than that. I deserve the freshest Diet Coke available, and I will hold out for it. I’m not unreasonable, I just know what I like.

And I like Diet Coke.

Sometimes I worry about my consumption. Earlier this year I had issues with my heart rate, and my doctor suggested I cut back on my caffeine. Thing is, Diet Coke has far less caffeine than tea or coffee. I can drink my usual daily amount (2x 710ml) and still intake less caffeine than someone drinking a single cup of coffee. More than a regular Coke drinker, but who cares about them?

DrinkCaffeine
12oz/355ml can of Coke34mg
12oz/355 can of Diet Coke46mg
12oz of coffee140mg

My daily intake is an average of four cans of Diet Coke, which puts my caffeine intake at 184mg. More than one cup of coffee, but who stops at one coffee? And more specifically, who cares about them?

I did actually try to find a fountain Diet Coke dispenser for the home, but I got nowhere. This would be a lot easier if I was in the US, but up here you can only buy the bags of syrup if you’re a restaurant. I’ve tried to talk Ed into getting a Coke Freestyle machine in which all the options are Diet Coke, but he muttered something about a prenup before walking away so I don’t think we were on the same page. He does put up with my needs though, which I appreciate. And I really do try to make my habits not affect anyone else whatsoever – it’s very rare that I’ll hold up a group because I NEED MY CAFFEINE FIRST (looking at you, coffee people) – I just bring it with me. And if I need to duck into a store to grab some more, I’ll catch up with you.

Diet Coke isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. For starters, it means more for me. And yes, it’s possible that the staggering amount of chemicals I’ve ingested over the last few decades means my remains will not decompose but rather stay eerily preserved for future historians to uncover and study with dignified awe and esteem. We all leave our mark on the world one way or another, and mine shall be a glorious glowing crater of a crypt that someone will mistake for some sort of holy relic and I’ll spend my eternity being revered by people who have greatly misunderstood my message.

But in the meantime, it’s going to be one hell of a satisfying ride.

none of these are drinks: they’re a stash jar, tiny purse, and a tinier portable battery.

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